Nobel Prizes: Controversy, Decline and Challenge – Georgios Ardavanis (Ph.D.)

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The Nobel Prizes have been given out in October each year since 1901. Regretfully, nevertheless, there have long been grievances over the Nobel Prizes being given to winners, mostly in the fields of science, literature, and peace.

For example, scientists who have achieved things that have harmed rather than helped humanity have occasionally been awarded the Nobel Prize. A typical illustration of the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine given to Portuguese neurologist Antonio Egas Moniz for developing the lobotomy method, a neurosurgery that was widely used in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s to treat psychiatric disorders of all kinds. Both the medical establishment and society embraced lobotomies, which were used for almost three decades before being written off as barbarous and eventually abandoned. The technique was widely abused and was also utilized as a personality modification procedure; it is now included under the dark side of medicine.

In any given scientific subject, consensus on important scientific advancements is rather easy to reach (though disagreements may exist over the relative importance of many fields). Giving credit where credit is due for a discovery or innovation, however, is more difficult. The works of an artist are typically unique even though they could be transient. No one else would have produced a certain piece of art or performance if they hadn’t. However, in science, “B” would have made a certain advancement sooner rather than later if “A” hadn’t. Furthermore, no scientist’s accomplishments are truly individual, just as a soccer player’s victory is not dependent on the other players on the field (or the manager off the field, either). Every advancement is a “team effort” that frequently builds upon the efforts of others. The Nobel Committee’s failure to recognize the contributions of more than three individuals has resulted in blatant injustices and created a false perception of how large-scale collaboration genuinely promotes science.

For instance, astronomers who discovered that the expansion of our universe was accelerating rather than slowing down—as would be predicted given the gravitational pull that galaxies have on one another—were awarded the 2011 Physics Prize. This suggested that there might be some “dark energy” dormant in empty space, a mysterious force “pushing” the galaxies apart on a cosmic scale, overwhelming gravity. Two teams of about 25 people each independently produced this finding. Three people—two from one team and one from the other—were awarded the Nobel Prize. However, in this instance, other individuals within each team possessed a track record equally impressive as that of the recipients.

Nobel laureates are viewed as “highly intelligent” by the general public and most journalists. While some have achieved possibly historic and noteworthy breakthroughs, others simply owe their success to good fortune. The findings about neutron stars and the cosmic microwave background are two examples of this. According to Louis Pasteur’s well-known theory, “fortune favors the prepared mind.” These scientists might be luckier than the ordinary professor, but they are no more talented.


The Nobel Peace Prizes are the category that raises the most questions regarding its distribution while also signaling the institution’s impending demise. According to me, the majority of Nobel Peace Prizes have gone to unemployed individuals who were notable for their involvement in terrorism rather than for their pursuit of peace. For instance:

The unprecedented 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance of former US President Barack Obama, only eight months into his presidency, for his empty promises of bolstering global diplomacy and inter-people collaboration. Barack Obama has shown himself to be a quiet American killer over the course of his eight years in office. In actuality, compared to the 2,996 civilian deaths on 9/11, Obama’s military killed roughly 4,700 civilians with drones. Obama has bombed Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria in addition to maintaining soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along with militarily supporting American forces and other armies in North and West Africa as well as Eastern and Central Europe, he also took part in counterterrorism operations in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Uganda. Pentagon special operations forces were stationed in at least 133 countries, or 70% of the world’s total, during his presidency. Of course, the deaths caused by American bombs and bullets cannot be counted among Obama’s victims; hundreds of thousands more perished as a result of the bombings that followed in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The US military budget increased this year to 608 billion dollars, reflecting the rise of military operations during the Obama administration.

Former US Vice President Al Gore. Al Gore’s efforts to increase public understanding of the greenhouse effect earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The Al Gore Nobel Award has caused a great deal of controversy. Some said that Gore’s campaign is meaningless because the greenhouse effect does not threaten humankind, while others said that the American politician’s activity is incompatible with the award’s goals. In the acclaimed documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” by Davis Guggenheim, Al Gore urges viewers to reduce their household electricity usage in order to contribute to environmental preservation. However, the electricity bill for Al Gore’s residence was made public in August 2006, and it showed a monthly consumption of 22,619 kilowatts—nearly twice as much as the average US family’s annual consumption. Furthermore, all of Al Gore’s assertions and forecasts were shown to be false. For instance, Gore predicted that by 2016, there was a 75% probability that the entire north polar ice cap would likely disappear. Gore cautioned once more that entire cities will remain vulnerable to larger storms. However, meteorologist and former chief scientist of NOAA Ryan Maue notes that throughout the last 30 years, there has been a minor declining trend of the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, a method used to quantify tropical cyclone activity worldwide.

US Secretary of State and academic Henry Kissinger is an American. As the president’s national security adviser and secretary of state during the Nixon and Ford administrations, Henry Kissinger dominated US foreign policy from 1969 to 1977. He was among the 20th century’s most divisive political personalities. Together with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duk Tho, who turned it down, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for their roles in bringing an end to the Vietnam War. Kissinger was charged with orchestrating the bombings that occurred in Cambodia between 1969 and 1975, leading Operation Condor, which attempted to stifle left-wing movements in Latin American nations during the 1970s, endorsing military regimes such as Pinochet’s in Chile and Papadopoulos’ in Greece, and pushing Turkey to invade Cyprus and seize a third of its territory. Many pacifists have maintained that the Nobel Peace Prize lost significance following Henry Kissinger’s acceptance.

Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, the foreign minister and president of Israel, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for the Oslo Accords, which cleared the path for Palestinian autonomy. In the 1960s, Shimon Peres was charged with initiating Israel’s nuclear arsenal and subsequently with being the mastermind of the Cana massacre. During his tenure as prime minister in 1996, the military operation known as “The Grapes of Wrath” broke out, resulting in the deaths of over 100 civilians at a UN refugee camp that Israel bombarded in the Lebanese village of Qana.

The longest-serving secretary of state in US history, Cordell Hull held the position from 1933 until 1944. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 in recognition of his role in the UN’s establishment and the strengthening of international peace. However, in 1939, while serving as Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, he threatened to withhold his backing for the US president in the 1940 election if he permitted a ship carrying 950 Jewish refugees—who had fled Nazi Germany and were hoping to apply for political asylum in the US—to dock in an American port. In response to pressure from his close associate, Roosevelt ordered the ship to return to Germany. Many of the people on board perished in concentration camps in the years that followed.

Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 in recognition of her efforts to promote sustainable development, democracy, and peace. However, when she asserted that white scientists invented the HIV/AIDS virus in order to harm Black people, it set off a furor of protests.

Other laureates whose work does not meet the values and visions of the Nobel Peace Prize are Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menachem Begin.

Despite their significant impact on literature and culture, a number of important writers and playwrights have been denied the Nobel Prize by the committee. Authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Henrik Ibsen, Mark Twain, George Orwell, and Arthur Miller are among those who have never won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for literature has sparked even more criticism. Perhaps without the Nobel Prize in Literature, perhaps the world of literature would be a better place. Without a doubt, it wouldn’t be worse off without the Nobel Prize since, as it is, it doesn’t elevate literature’s stature or establish a real benchmark for literary output.

The fact that the Nobel Prize discourages teamwork by awarding only three scientists for each discovery and focuses already meager scientific funding in areas that laureates are interested in is another problem. In addition, the prize suffers from bias as only two women have ever won the physics Nobel Prize, despite a large field of worthy candidates. In this case, the Nobel committee’s decision to recognize women scientists was unfair. Out of the 989 Nobel Prizes that have been given out so far in all categories, only 61 women have received any of them. The figures for the Nobel Peace and Literature Prize are better because just about 3% of winners have been female.

Beyond differences in opinion over which scientist was more worthy, the Swedish Nobel judges were, in any case, most likely to detect political prejudice and Eurocentrism in the conclusions drawn from their work in the last decades.


Georgios Ardavanis – 18/10/2023

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